Monday, August 25, 2014
ART, AGAIN; LEARNING TO DRAW
For several years i taught “FUN da MENTALS” of art at the college. For those of you not familiar with the Catch 22 labyrinth of community college curriculum ART 101, or Fundamentals of Art is an art basics class that a student must take prior to taking any “required” art class on their degree path unless they can prove competency, or have taken at least two years of art in high school. Most of the students enrolled in this class have had little or no experience or exposure to the physical practice of art making. Most believe that they will go on to get a degree in computer graphics/design. But i digress, you have sixteen weeks to lay the ground work for a life time of art practice. Like i used to say in Art Appreciation, 30,000 years of Art History, 16 weeks, hmm….
The most common statement out of the mouths of 101 students is, “But i can’t draw!” The proper response to that statement is - of course you can! It is a problem with a two part solution; 1. training, and refining the relationship between the hand and the eye of the student, and 2. practice. Of course the amount of practice drawing to achieve competence is quite beyond the scope of a 16 week art class. Most students in this class complain that one homework assignment a week is too much. You can begin to see the problem. The best you can do in this classroom situation is to make the class as non-threatening and as fun as possible. Hence, “FUN da MENTALS”. The line, the idea of mark making is the true fundamental building block of all art practice. One of the first drawing exercises i had my classes do was simply to make marks on a piece of paper while listening to short excerpts of different styles of music. After they get over the initial silliness that always accompanies this exercise i had them analyze the shapes and relationships they saw in their scribbles. The ultimate end of this exercise was to develop a composition that exhibited unity, variety, positive and negative space. In other words creating a -good design - using only lines in all their limitless variety to create texture, gray scale value and other visual interest. This exercise has the additional benefit of introducing the concept of abstraction while building confidence in and experience in using the fundamental tools of pen, pencil and line prior to drawing still life, figure drawing or in plein air.
Now that i am ‘retired’ and i have time to explore all of the avenues of art making that i want to i try to do at least one of these drawings a week. I have always drawn in a surrealistic abstract style. The current series of black and white line drawings i see as an interesting series in and of themselves. They are part of the conscious downsizing of my life. One question that i need to be able to answer for myself is, can i be happy with just a pad of paper and drawing tools? Or do i need more stuff, more art making stuff to feel that my creative urge is properly fulfilled. I’ll let you know.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
LIFE AND ART; AGAIN
Yesterday was one of those gray, rain filled days. It rained non-stop from about 10 in the morning until about 5:30 p.m. Around 8:30 in the evening it started to rain, again. Days like yesterday come around with an open invitation to do nothing more than curl up with a good book and laze the day away. Or just maybe, to go to the studio and make art. Which is exactly what Mungo and i both did. What with the gray cloud filled skies and torrential at times downpour it simply wasn’t a good day for going anywhere or doing anything. I finished the fifth collage of the summer and Mungo wrote almost twenty-five pages of his new novel. Altogether it was a very productive day. Here is the newest of my collages.
|Divided Mind #4, The fifth|
After supper and before it started raining; again, we took the time to walk the docks and enjoy some fresh air. There is an elusive freshness ti the air and earth after a major rainstorm. A clarity that we often don’t notice in the rush of the everyday, working world. You certainly could not say the same for the water. The river turns a creamy brown, as if a giant had poured cream into their coffee. It will stay this way for several days. Coupled with the record breaking rainfall (almost 8” recorded at the airport) were extremely high tide and winds mainly out of the east which blew excessive amounts of water up the river. It is normal for us, even at high tide to have to step up to get off the boat. Last night we were actually stepping down. The water was up to the bottom of the docks. This turned out to be a problem for our resident duck family. Somehow two of the remaining four ducklings got separated from mom duck and their siblings. Normally being in a different set of slips in the marina wouldn’t be an issue, but with the water so high the ducklings could not swim under the docks. We spent at least a half hour watching the increasingly frantic actions of mom duck - - quacking all the while as she would jump up on the dock, trying in vain to teach each pair of ducklings the trick of flight and dock walking. Ultimately we acted as duck herders and got two of the babies to swim out and around the docks so they could be reunited. At one point i think Mungo was deliberating getting into the water and swimming them around.
This morning as Mungo was baling out our inflatable dinghy we realized that we had the ultimate dog days of August lounging space. Hmm, fill up the Intex, with cool water (it does float even filled over halfway) make a batch of Painkillers, and relax.
See ya in the pool.
Saturday, August 9, 2014
MAKING ART THE ART OF COLLAGE
I like to make things (make art) using a variety of techniques and materials. Over the past nine years i have devoted a great deal of my art making time to an exploration of the art of collage. My interest in collage was re-ignited the first year i was teaching Art Appreciation at Carroll Community College when i discovered the work of Hannah Hoch.
My first major collage project was “52 Weeks”; which was a way to motivate myself in the studio the first summer after i moved to Maryland. My practice prior to this move was large scale, abstract sculpture, not feasible in my current space. “52 Weeks” was a commitment to create a collage a week for a year, ergo, “52 Weeks”. Yes, a major commitment, however a more likely one than a friend’s (Dan Johnson) who wrote a grant that required him to create a piece of work every day for a year. Yes, a lot of artists are more than a little crazy. Obviously some ground rules were necessary to keep a handle on a project this large. I really only had two, one the size of the paper i used, 8.5” x 11”, and the paper it self, which was a mid tone khaki. If only you could throw out the first few collages like the first pancake of the batch! I kept a journal about the process. The entire series as well as my writing about it is available at gailelwell.com
My collage practice was predicated by the physical limitations of my new studio space. Does this sound familiar? Little did i know…
I almost never use computer generated images in my collage work. Most of my sources are art history books, arts and cultural magazines from say the 50’s through the 70s, once i scored an amazing run of Southby’s auction catalogues at a local Goodwill, handyman’s periodicals and stuff even older, there are some amazing images in woman’s magazines from the turn of the century, 19th that is. I think that i don’t use the computer generated stuff because i almost never work to a theme. Ergo i never (almost) have a specific image in my mind - i prefer serendipity to uncover the image that will work best. I may ‘know’ when i sit down that my intention is to create a work that will fit into one of my ongoing series, such as “Divided Mind”, or “Womandela”, etc. The shape of, the narrative and imagery of each piece happens through the process of making and i never really know where i’m going until i get there. Maybe a little like therapy?
|Divided Mind #1, 2014|
Early on in the collection process i learned very quickly that i could not keep the books i was buying to cut up as books. They simply take up to much room, and here on the boat they also weigh too much. In the beginning i was buying up collections, often twenty plus books at a time - rapidly running out of room here! So i initiated a practice that i still follow, which is cut and file. I will sit down with two or three books per session and go through the entire book, harvesting any image or text that jumps out. These are then filed either by title i.e., Horizon magazines are simply filed as such, with the date. Art history books i usually cut than sort by style, religious, portrait, still life, etc.
But wait, don’t throw out that empty shell of a book, you might be able to use it to make more art. Altered Books are fun to make. I’ll do an entry on altered books soon.
So where do they come from? How do i put them together? I sit dow with a blank piece of paper and a folder of images and i start looking. Naturally content will be predicated by the material being used. Sooner or later an image strikes my fancy, i cut or tear it as my whim takes me and i continue looking. Each of my series have formal structural elements - “Womandala” the mandela pattern embedded somewhere in the composition, “Divided Mind” uses the split portrait, to reveal whats on a man’s mind. So it goes, wander through more imagery, cut our a few more pieces, put them down, look at the relationships and all of a sudden a narrative begins to develop. Move images around, look at the color and spatial elements, reject the image i started with because it no longer fits the narrative and continue on. Of course by this time, particularly if i’m working with Horizon (an arts and cultural magazine published from the mid 50’s thru the late 70’s) i have stopped to read at least three articles.
I never glue anything down in my collages until i have the entire piece laid out. Why? Because during the composition process i find myself constantly shifting the edges, changing the layering until the piece gels. If i am working on a large very complex piece i will often take photos of the work at this point. I’ve “ruined” more than one piece by neglecting this step. Okay so its glue time. I use Aileen’s tacky glue although any PVA glue will work. I like Aileen’s because it is slightly more viscous than most of the white glues on the market, so there is less chance for unsightly ooze developing. So first i determine which piece of the careful crafted puzzle i have just assembled is the background, the piece that lies underneath everything else. I lightly mark with a pencil any reference points i can, gently mover all of the elements that overlap it (of course everything else will move as well, photo please) flip it over, apply the glue, and unless you are 100% sure that you will never want to change the layout, don’t run your glue all the way out to the edge. You just might change your mind! Reassemble the pieces, correct the relationships, choose the next piece to adhere, and so it goes.
|Womadala #3, Unplugged|
Most of my current collages are completed within three days. The smaller size lends itself to a fairly rapid mode of work. When i was an active partner at OFF TRACK ART (check them out, 11 Liberty st, Westminster, Md) i would often create a piece during my shift, usually a three hour stint. Working with that sort of deadline was a way to sharpen my design skills. Enough meandering. I will write more later about image choice, messaging, etc. Until than check out the Hannah Hoch link, (the Guardian article is very interesting) if you are unfamiliar with her life and work, and check out my website gailelwell.com, for “52 Weeks” and other cool art. Enjoy the images.
Friday, August 1, 2014
MAKING TIME MAKING ART
So many people i know think of themselves as artists. most of these people don’t make art; or make very little. Why? Most of them will tell you its because they don’t have the time, or they don’t have the room, or they want to, but they’re not very good, if they just had time to take that class…..
While i will be one of the first to tell you, yes, you do need to have to time to make art. I will also tell you from personal experience that it is always possible to make time to make art. I know, i’ve done it. for the last seven years i h ave worked full time in a retail management position and taught between one and three for credit classes a semester at the local community college. I was also a founding partner in a cooperative art gallery. Which of course meant meetings and other time consuming obligations. somehow in spite of all of this time sucking labor i had three solo shows, numerous group shows, scored representation by a New York City gallery, was invited to participate in the Florence biannale (couldn’t afford it) managed to keep my wall at the gallery (Off Track Art, Westminster, Md. check them out) refreshed with new work.
|American Bounty, collage and text, July 14|
How? Did i sleep? Yes i did - well i will confess to getting up at two or three in the morning if a deadline loomed. How? Did i eat? Absolutely! How? I made the time. Making art, making stuff, is one of the most important priorities in my life. So i made time for it. No excuses, just did it. Went to my studio and made stuff. I am a morning person, so a glass of juice, a cup of coffee, and a smoothie and i’m good to go. It didn’t matter to me if i only had an hour, or all day, i was in my studio and working. I love the morning light, mornings are my favorite time of day to work. I cherish the days i can work without artificial light. So the time issue, well its not really an issue. Not if you really want to do it. Not if you have to do it. Does it sound like and addiction? Yes, it does. Does it feel as if i am compelled? Yes, i am. But making art makes me a better person, so i do it every chance i get.
I have to confess to being more than a little freaked out during the whole construction of the Floating Empire and dismantling of my studio and our home of the past ten years. i closed up my studio in March, we put the boat in the water in the middle of June. I didn’t start working in my studio here on the boat until July. I was afraid that i would turn into a raving lunatic bitch after being cut off from the source of my creativity for that long. It was close, but the Floating Empire is a huge art project in itself. So there was some relief there.
|Harlequin Blue Romance, colored pencil and pen, July 14|
The other myth, the space issue is one that i would also like to take on; ‘I don’t have anyplace to work, i don’t have the equipment’, is as big a crutch as ‘I don’t have the time’. I have less than 90% of my supplies, tools and equipment with me. Yet i still make art, and do it every day. Even if its only a half hour in the morning before you go to work, or a half hour before dinner, or before bed and all you have is a pad of paper and some colored pencils, go ahead make art. Make stuff. Treat yourself, you’ll feel better.
|Green Fish, Blue Fish, colored pencil and pen, July 14|